Cristiano Ronaldo called it, “The moment to begin a new cycle.” Italian newspapers dubbed it “Deal Of The Century.” The difference is revealing. For Ronaldo the €100 million move is a (slight) step down; for Italian football the transfer is huge.
However, whilst it will inject Serie A with a much needed popularity boost, it won’t bring back the glory days—and will widen the already gaping chasm between the top clubs and the rest.
Many have attributed Ronaldo’s motivation to money. But really: it’s more about ego. Ronaldo is currently the best goalscorer in the world. But at 33, he is at the tail end of his career, and (arguably) peaked in the season of 2014/15, when he scored 61 goals. Since then, he has scored 51 goals (2015/16), 42 goals (2016/17) and 43 goals (2017/18) respectively. This is still better than everyone else, but relative to his own standards, represents a decline in form.
So now, to cement his legacy (and to prove himself somewhere new), he has decided to be the big fish in a smaller pond. A move which Italian football legend (and ex-Juventus player) Del Piero argues could challenge the English/Spanish football league duopoly.
“I think it’ll raise the competition level in Italy, raise the desire to beat this Juve side that has won seven titles in a row and today people are talking about Juventus, Turin and Italy all over the world in the way they haven’t for many years,” he told Sky Sport Italia.
For the last few decades the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga have been the power houses of top-tier football. However, with Neymar’s move from Barcelona to France’s PSG last year, and Ronaldo’s recent signing, some argue the increasing popularity of the French and Italian leagues could lead to a wider dispersion of the world’s best players.
“Juventus want to win the Champions League,” Del Piero said, “But not only that, to be recognised on the same level as the greatest clubs in the world… Since 2006, we have struggled in Italian football, so raising the bar here with Ronaldo makes a difference in terms of image for Serie A and calcio” (Football Italia).
“He is a player who can score from any angle and has great technique, but on top of any economic aspects, I think he brings this incredible desire to win.”
Serie A will benefit from this as it gives motivation to the teams looking to challenge Juve’s seven-year stranglehold on the league, he suggested.
“It’s great for Juve, great for Italian football, truly huge and will be wonderful for the whole city and Italian football to enjoy all he can still do,” he said.
Ronaldo’s fame could also help Serie A secure broadcasting deals (a recurrent problem for Italian football) closer to the numbers the English and Spanish leagues bring in. His social media following (he has more Instagram followers than Nike) is another justification for his price-tag, as it could help unlock new markets. How? Well just as Manchester United’s digital strategy has made them the most followed football club in China, despite winning far less trophies than in previous years, Juventus will be hoping that Ronaldo’s legacy will continue making them money long after his four year contract comes to an end.
Congratulations, @Cristiano. It was hard to join another side after so long at Santos but it was the right move. Champions never tire of new challenges. /Parabéns, Cristiano! Eu achei muito difícil defender outra camisa depois de tanto tempo no @SantosFC, mas foi o certo a fazer. https://t.co/aA44BKpakr
— Pelé (@Pele) July 10, 2018
Landing Ronaldo signals Juventus’ focus on commercial revenue (money from sources other than ticket sales and broadcasting fees), founded on a strong digital presence and superstar-heavy reputation. Analysts see this as an insurance tactic—hedging against volatility in the broadcasting market (which is currently being disrupted by illegal streaming services and the like). The only potential cause for conflict is that Ronaldo is a Nike die-hard, while Juventus are sponsored by Adidas.
In terms of improving Italian football, however, not everyone is sold. According to The Straits Times, Ronaldo’s move is nothing more than a “quick fix” for Serie A.
“Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus on Tuesday (July 10) is a much-needed short-term boost for the Serie A, which has struggled to attract top players in the last decade, but the Italian league’s many deep-rooted problems remain,” (Reuters).
According to The Straits Times, “For every two steps forward, Serie A seems to take one step back,” doubting that the gap between the top Serie A clubs and the rest will be improved, “By adding the world’s top player to a team who have won the last seven titles.”
Regardless of what happens in Italy, for Madridistas the question is now: who will the new Galactico be? Will they stick to what they have with Bale, Benzema, and home-grown talent Isco and Asensio? Or will they try to find a direct replacement for CR7? Rumour has it they might replace him with Neymar, although not having achieved everything he set out to at PSG, the fleet-footed Brazilian might not be keen to go (and PSG are unlikely to relinquish him).